Wednesday, 17th January, 2024

[Day 1402]

Today we got ourselves up and breakfasted, with the assistance of the pair of regular carers who are proving to be a great boon at the moment. This morning, we had in mind to attend the Methodist centre which we have not requested since before Christmas. After New Year, the centre was closed for a week and then last Wednesday, we were otherwise engaged in the club organised by AgeUK on the second Wednesday of each month so this was our first visit for some time. We sat at a table with a patron of the centre with whom we have sat before and had some interesting conversations before he left us. We were then joined by one of our Tuesday crowd of Waitrose friends and we learnt that a special birthday was in the offing, specifically a 90th birthday next Friday. I must say that our friend is being quite sprightly for a 90-year old and I am amazed how she manages to keep so active. For example, I asked her if she had any domestic or cleaning help but she informed me that she is still all doing all of her own housework. I may be wrong in this but I think she is still an active member of a local choir as well.

All of today, there have been a lot of political machinations as the Rwanda bill is due to have a critical vote this evening and there is always the possibility that the bill as a whole might be lost. Last night, the right wing rebels of the Conservative party forced two votes on amendments the import of which was for the government to not comply with any judgements of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The rebels secured a vote of about 70 on the first and 60 on the second but it was relatively easy to rebel because with the Labour Party supporting the government in rejecting the amendments they were bound to fail – which they did as those voting to reject the amendments was the vast majority of the House of Commons of over 500. Knowing that the amendments could never succeed, the right wing rebels felt that they could vote against their own government with impunity but two deputy chairmen of the Conservative party resigned just before they voted in favour of the rebel amendments. The political commentators have got very excited about these results thinking that Downing Street may well feel that the Bill is effectively lost but this is rather to misread what is going on. The right wing rebels are trying to exact as many concessions from the government as they can and so on an elaborate game of ‘chicken’ is going on. The rebels are demanding that they be invited into Downing Street to argue with the Prime Ministers and his advisers holding the threat of defeating the Prime Minister on a core piece of legislation. As this is essentially a game of chicken, many of the rebels will not actually do so if it means that the bill as a whole is lost but this is all part of the bluff and counter-bluff of politics. The rebels are using rather weasel words not saying that they are going to vote against the government but saying that they are ‘prepared to consider voting against the government’ which, of course, gives the wriggle room to not actually lose the Bill as a whole. The result should be known at about 7.00pm this evening but may be later in the evening.

This afternoon, we engaged in our normal diet of a bit of comedy with ‘Yes, Prime Minister‘ taking the pride of place. Today’s episode was concerned with the machinations of a possible tobacco rise in tobacco tax where the relevant figures quoted were that 100,000 people a year would die of smoking related diseases in return for a return to the Treasury of about £4 billion in revenue. This episode may well have reflected some of the political machinations that were alleged to have taken place when some of the East European economies liberalised after the demise of the ‘Iron Curtain’ The story that I have heard is this. Senior executives of the tobacco industry met with senior civil servants of the country which may well have been Hungary. The tobacco industry chiefs let it be known that they privately knew that tobacco smoking killed a lot of people, even though this was denied in public. They then argued to the Hungarian civil servants that it not be a good idea to tax tobacco too heavily. It was much more sensible to let people smoke, stay alive and pay their due quota of taxes and then die, shortly after retirement, so that the State would not then be responsible for the heavy costs of pensions and healthcare for the elderly. So the tobacco chiefs argued that in purely financial times, it was more advantageous for the newly developing economies to collect the taxes whilst they could and then not be too unhappy about lots of people dying of smoking related diseases before the state incurred the heavy burdens to the tax payer of paying for people to survive too long. In any event, this argument seemed to succeed because the taxes were never actually levied on the tobacco companies (whose arguments must have proved to have been very influential)